Jimmy Graham and Luke Willson can be unrestricted free agents following the 2017 season.
The tight-end position looms as one of the most intriguing for the Seahawks in 2017.
The Seahawks look set for this year with Jimmy Graham not only back for a third season in Seattle but healthy after recovering from a devastating knee injury suffered in 2015, backup Luke Willson re-signed and last year’s third-round pick, Nick Vannett, ready to become a regular contributor.
But Graham and Willson can be unrestricted free agents again following the 2017 season, and other than Vannett there is no one else on the current roster who appears a lock to be with the team in 2018.
Couple that future uncertainty with a class of tight ends called by most draft experts as among the best in recent history and Seattle could well add another player at that position next week.
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First, a review of how things currently stand.
PLAYERS CURRENTLY ON ROSTER
Starter: Jimmy Graham.
Backups: Luke Willson, Nick Vannett.
Key offseason losses: Brandon Williams (signed with Colts as unrestricted free agent).
Others on roster: Marcus Lucas (practice squad in 2016), Chris Briggs (2017 free agent signee).
Seahawks coach Pete Carroll could hardly have sounded more excited at the NFL league meetings last month about the prospect of having Graham healthy for an entire offseason and season. And maybe that will lead to Graham producing even more than the 65 catches for 923 yards he had last season, which while Seahawks records for a tight end, still paled in comparison to the lofty expectations that greeted his arrival in 2015. There’s been little buzz so far about a possible extension, meaning how this season goes could well determine his future in Seattle.
Willson returned on a one-year deal that also means he is again entering a contract season, one in which he hopes to stay healthy and put up bigger numbers than the 15 catches for 129 yards of 2016.
Vannett played sparingly last year but will now be expected to step into Williams’ role as the third tight end.
DRAFT NEED (on scale of 1-10): 7. Does Seattle have a glaring immediate need at tight end? Not to step right in and play this year, necessarily. But teams often draft for needs they think they will have a year or two down the road, and Seattle may well want to cover itself depending on what it thinks will happen with Graham and Willson.
Seattle had four tight ends on its 53-man roster throughout 2017, so there’s room.
FIVE POSSIBLE DRAFT FITS
• David Njoku, Miami: The top tight end in the draft, O.J. Howard of Alabama, wouldn’t figure to be around when the Seahawks pick at 26. But Njoku, often considered next on the list, could be and might be intriguing. He played just two seasons at Miami and is just 20 years old, leading to the inevitable conclusion that he has a ton of upside. At blocking, he’s a work in progress, though.
• George Kittle, Iowa: He never caught more than 22 passes in a season and is regarded as more of a mid-round pick. But 4.51 speed has elicited comparisons to Willson and he is regarded as a solid blocker.
• Adam Shaheen, Ashland: The Division II standout rose up the charts after an impressive NFL combine performance that included 24 bench press reps, tied for the most of any tight end. And at 6-6½, 278, he is the tallest and heaviest of all the tight ends available. The transition from D-II to NFL might also mean he’s a year away from being a big contributor, which might fit Seattle’s needs well.
• Jake Butt, Michigan: He won the Mackey Award as the best tight end in college football last season. But there are some questions about his physicality — a 32-inch arm length — which should mean he’ll be there for Seattle’s three third-round picks.
• Darrell Daniels, Washington: Daniels didn’t put up huge numbers at UW after moving from receiver, catching 47 passes the last three seasons. But the offense didn’t lend itself to big tight end production, and Daniels opened some eyes at the combine (though he also had 17 bench press reps, fewest of any tight ends). He’s likely to be a late-round gamble for somebody.